There is no feeling like standing before Mom and Dad knowing that you’re in deep enough that you can swim, and very, very few things on this planet will get you in front of Mr. Judge and Mrs. Jury faster than being a teen with access to a car. Ask me how I know. Compared to the calm, somewhat rational man I have become, growing up I was a handful, but only when it came to anything mechanical. We’re talking about a kid who got his first car at 12 years old and had access to tons of rides throughout the years. Many stories live in my past: there’s the one where I was cooking the tires off my ’77 Impala when my mother came up the road and into the driveway, another where I was doing donuts in an open area next to our house in a demo derby Pontiac, and of course there was the time I got pulled over in front of my grandfather’s house. But seeing the picture of the GP doing donuts this morning brings back memories of the end-all-be-all of my stories: my father’s ’77 Grand Prix.
I had moved in with my father and stepmother in the winter of 2000. She drove a Ford Escort wagon at the time, but Dad had the Grand Prix. It was rougher than the ’78 Chrysler I was driving at the time by a long shot. Rust patches, parts missing…I wish I had a picture of that beast. This thing was that nearly rust red color that they had, it sat on equally fragged looking Pontiac Rally wheels on BFG T/A’s and due to the lack of exhaust on the 400, it sounded like it wanted to fight anything. It was a killer beater, and despite appearances, ran it’s ass off when caned. It was also his daily driver…while he wasn’t exactly a gear head by any stretch of the imagination, he had enough knowledge to be good and liked older vehicles. The Grand Prix was the closest he came to reliving his teenage car, a ’68 or ’69 GTO he always mentioned.
That January the front end fell off of my LeBaron quite literally. After living with the abuse of my daily driving around Colorado Springs and the long trip out to Southern Illinois that winter, the passenger side of the front suspension had been pushed to the limits of wear and tear and on a rural highway one damn cold night, fell apart, putting the frame on the ground, the car on the side of the road, and me hitchhiking for the first and only time in my life. We got my car towed home and realized that I’d have to replace a ton of crap. Since Dad was ride-sharing to his job as a prison guard, I could use the Pontiac until we got the Chrysler back together.
Up until that point, the biggest vehicle I’d ever driven was the 1973 Chevelle that I had ended up owning years later. And while the Chevelle was a big car, it felt manageable. Somehow, the Grand Prix felt even bigger. I remember that morning…woke up, got ready for school, went outside to start the car and got it thawed out, and once it was warmed up, sat down in the Bordello Red bucket seat, slammed the door while pulling up to make sure the latch caught, pressed the surprisingly firm brake pedal and moved the floor shifter into drive…and the car bit the ground like it was ready to go. Compared with the LeBaron’s lazy-assed 318 and rear gears that were probably 2.2 or weaker, the Grand Prix felt absolutely bad-ass and ready to play. Restraint lasted the morning. On the way to school the car sounded competent and impatient. At lunch, wound up on a ton of Surge soda and a desire for food not from the cafeteria, I ran out to the Pontiac, fired it up, and headed out.
The road leading out towards where the food was had a quarter-mile straight that lead into a Z-shaped speed break, then another eighth-mile straight until it dumped out on a county highway. With forty-five minutes for a lunch break, time was of the essence. I launched out of the parking lot hauling ass, slowed down for the left-hand kink, but at the right-hand kink the sun hadn’t shone yet, so there was a little bit of frost on the asphalt…enough that when I put my foot down the Pontiac spun and I ended up in the grass field between the road and a cornfield. Which would’ve been plenty bad enough, except I saw the car that followed me out of school: A silver Honda with one hubcap missing. The office secretary, a no-nonsense lady who knew the family. She had seen the whole thing. Oh, shit. I didn’t even try to rinse off the grass. I knew it was pointless. I got home and my stepmother was sitting at the table with a smile that simply said, “You’re dead” and had me hand over the keys. My father got home at ten at night. Unbeknownst to them I had been sipping from a hidden stash of Maker’s Mark I had, trying to calm down while preparing to offer up mea culpa. My father was an intimidating man, even more so when he had his uniform on, so as I walked down the stairs even the alcohol failed me. He was quiet…way too quiet…and was just staring at me. Finally, he spoke: “Never again.” And that’s all I needed.
So today, let’s hear it: what’s the best story that ends up with you dreading heading home?